Thursday, 21 July 2022

The Great Raven Cycle Re-read: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

(Spoiler Alert! Hit the back button if you don't want to see spoilers for The Raven Cycle or the Dreamer Trilogy.)

5/5

"'Don't throw it away,' Noah whispered." - Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys

I'm not a big re-reader (side note: does Goodreads always register re-read books as being read twice on the same day, doubling up its contribution to your Reading Challenge in the process?), but I've decided to embrace the intoxicating hype for Greywaren and re-read The Raven Cycle and the first two books of the Dreamer Trilogy in the run-up to the 18th October 2022.

Best. Decision. Ever.

The second time around, The Raven Boys is a completely different book. This is mostly Ronan and Noah's fault. About 80% of everything Ronan says and does is a reference to his dreaming and another 10% is him pining after Adam. Likewise with Noah in the first half regarding him being a literal ghost. Knowing how Ronan feels about Adam from the start makes the fact that Adam regards hanging out with Ronan as the price he has to pay to be friends with Gansey absolutely hilarious - all the months they've known each other and Ronan hasn't managed to make any sort of positive impression on him at all. Adam's really out here carrying the enemies part of this enemies to lovers plotline on his own.

Adam seems to see himself and Ronan as vying over Gansey's friendship. He thinks that Gansey bails Ronan out too much, which is ironic considering that Gansey spends the whole damn book (and has apparently spent a good portion of their friendship) trying to help Adam out and Adam just won't let him. Then again, maybe that's the problem. Ronan can afford to let Gansey fight his battles. Adam can't. That isn't to say I'm on Gansey's side here though. Honestly, I'm more on Adam's, partly because I too am too stubborn for my own good and have more pride than sense, but mostly because Gansey is at his worst dealing with Adam. They're both angry, but there's really no excuse for the victim-blaming. Isn't Adam suffering enough being beaten by his father, without his friend yelling at him for getting beaten by his father? I would argue that Gansey and Adam is the most important relationship in The Raven Boys - yes, even more so than Blue and Adam or Blue and Gansey - simply because there's so much tension there. It builds up, and up, and up, and when it boils over Adam runs off to wake the ley line. Gansey's sense of betrayal over this is important, because it exposes that Adam was kind of right all along - Gansey did think he could control him. Not necessarily in a cruel way, but certainly to the point where if he told him not to do something Adam would listen. 

One thing that really struck me this time round was how much everyone around Ronan really just wants what's best for him. Declan and Gansey aren't clashing because one of them's right and one of them's wrong, they're clashing because they both want him to be okay and they have very different ideas about how to go about ensuring that. Personally, I think the real villain here is Aglionby. The timeline is... kind of shaky (it's physically impossible for Gansey to have arrived in Henrietta 18 months ago and have been friends with Adam for 18 months if he'd been friends with Ronan for months before he met Adam, unless he knew Ronan before he moved to Henrietta... which would likely have come up by now), but what we do know is that sometime in the last eighteen months Ronan quite literally found his father murdered in the driveway of their family home, which he and his brothers were promptly exiled from by said father's will. Then, six months ago, he tried to kill himself. This is all really recent and we know from Gansey's POV chapters that Ronan was a completely different person before his father died - it's something he struggles with, mourning the loss of the friend he knew whilst trying to hold on to the one he has now - but Aglionby are out here acting like they've been oh so patient and (possible) failing grades are the last straw. It sounds to me more like they're too scared of their grade average being dragged down to actually care about their students as people. Everything in the Dreamer Trilogy seems almost inevitable when you look at the strength of the support system Ronan has throughout The Raven Cycle. The first time round, I don't think I clocked how - and I hate to put it like this but the most accurate word really is - fragile a character he is. The skipping school makes it easy to buy into the idea that he simply doesn't care, but reading it now - with eight years more life experience - it's obvious that he's given up on himself after everything that's happened. Combined with all his self-destructive behaviours, it paints a picture of a kid who doesn't care about his future because he doesn't plan to have one. Gansey accuses him of as much, "you don't care if you live or die."

Throughout the series, Noah is as much of a plot device as a character, so it's really sweet to see how attached the other members of the group are to him. From Blue's almost instant soft spot for him, to Ronan writing remembered on the car, to what Adam says when he confronts Whelk in Cabeswater, the fact that his existence is tenuous at best and they didn't know him when he was living doesn't matter. Noah is one of them.

Discounting Neeve, who returns later, the first villain of the series is really Barrington Whelk. Whelk is every negative stereotype about little rich boys with too much of daddy's money - he's arrogant, entitled, misogynistic, and that's just the tip of the iceberg - but he could have been a sympathetic villain. Even if his fall basically just put him on the same level as the average twenty-something, he still lost his whole life as he knew it through no fault of his own. It's how he reacts to it that makes him unsympathetic. As Adam puts it, "why not someone horrible?"

I could write so, so much more, but this has already taken me over three hours.

God, I love this series.

Who's your favourite Raven Cycle character?

Sunday, 17 July 2022

June Wrap-up

Sorry for the late wrap-up - this is usually the thing you can actually rely on me to post too! I moved house at the end of last month and I've only just gotten my internet set up.

Song of the Month: Hair Salon by Megan Moroney

News from the Reading Front

So, first of all, I have a fun announcement - in the run-up to Maggie Stiefvater's Greywaren, I'm going to be re-reading The Raven Cycle and the first two books of the Dreamer Trilogy. I know that hyping something up is always a terrible idea, because you get to the point where it can be nothing but a disappointment to you simply because you've built it up too much. That said, it's nice to be excited. It's fun to be able to look forward to something to such an extent. I don't do a lot of re-reading and - so far - I'm having a wonderful time. Everything we learn about Ronan and Noah throughout the series completely recontextualises every other line out of both of their mouths. It's a completely different experience the second time around!

I also have what I think is a pretty solid theory that Ronan is actually a dream, which I'll hopefully post sometime soon, once I manage to write it out in a coherent way that doesn't drag on for thousands of words. To those who've read Mister Impossible, you know what I mean when I say the simplest explanation is usually the right one, right?

Anyway, here's what I read in June...

News from the Net

  • Days Volume 30 by Tsuyoshi Yasuda drops on the 27th July
  • Husband Material by Alexis Hall is coming out on the 2nd August
Did you do anything exciting in June?

Thursday, 16 June 2022

The Dating Game (The Lonely Hunter by Aimée Lutkin)

4/5

"Married with no children is suspicious enough. Being single is sinister." - Aimée Lutkin, The Lonely Hunter, page 109

This wasn't what I was expecting (you'll find this is a common theme as you scroll through the Goodreads reviews). I happened to come across an extract posted as an article one day. It was discussing the differences in lifestyle between the single, child-free writer and her friend, who was married with a child and a second one on the way. It talked about the perceived benefits of both sides from the outside looking in. After reading the extract, I immediately googled the book, found out they had it at Waterstones, and went after work to buy it.  

To give you an idea of how little I really knew, I was suprised to find it in the biography section.

What I expected was an exploration of the difficulties of being single that took a 'different strokes for different folks' approach. I'm a big believer in the idea that it's daft to get worked up over other people's life choices - unless they're hurting the people around them, obviously - and I'd enjoyed the way the extract treated both the author and her best friend, who had taken a more traditional life path, as valid people with understandable struggles.

What this book really does is explore dating culture. 

That's not a criticism. I don't know what it was, but I found this easy to pick back up again after I put it down. I also enjoyed the scientific and sociological discussion that took place in between the author recounting the highs and lows of her dating experiment. I always think it's fascinating to read not so much about specific people, but rather how people more generally live their lives and this book dips in and out of different approaches to dating. The voice is good too - it's pretentious enough to feel like the writer is trying to adopt a style more suited to writing literary fiction, but it doesn't go so far as to make you feel like they're talking down to you. 

The final chapter dragged a bit - though that may have been because I'd decided to finish it that night and I was keenly aware the clock had inched past midnight - but overall I would recommend this to anyone looking for something that will pull them in.

 When was the last time you read a biography?

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

May Wrap-up

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we are rapidly approaching the middle of the year. Who else is horribly behind on their reading challenge? I'm generally in favour of shifting your goal in the middle of the year to keep it manageable (though, usually, I'm shifting it up if at all), but I think I'll hold off for a bit. You never know what might happen.

Song of the Month: Friends to Lovers by Melina KB

News from the Reading Front

My reading choices this month were greatly informed by what I've been watching. I picked up America after I saw the new Dr Strange film and it somehow managed to be more disappointing than said film. The Spy X Family anime is excellent... now if only Crunchyroll would finally accept my card so that I could watch beyond episode three...

News from the Writing Front

Editing is finally going well again. I've found I concentrate much better when I'm not in my tiny room, staring at the same four walls, so I've taken to spending weekend afternoons in coffee shops with my laptop.

News from the Net

How was your May?

Thursday, 26 May 2022

Pride and Prejudice in Space (A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold)

5/5

"'I am not who I was. I can't go back. I don't quite like who I have become. Yet I still... stand. But I hardly know how to go on from here. No one ever gave me a map for this road.'" - Ekaterin in A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, page 427

I have a terrible habit at the moment of starting long books (my edition of A Civil Campaign is 534 pages), reading less than a couple of chapters, putting them down for months, and then devouring them in all of three days. 

For context, I technically started this book in January, but have read 500+ of its pages since Monday.

I think it is my favourite of all the books in The Vorkosigan Saga that I've read so far. (Full disclosure, I doubt I've read half, but I still consider this an accolade.)

A Civil Campaign is inarguably a love story, with the build up to Miles and Ekaterin's inevitable (I'd already read Diplomatic Immunity) engagement forming the main plotline. Meanwhile, Mark and Kareen start a business in the basement, whilst also dealing with her parents' objections to their relationship, Lord Dono fights to set a new precedent and claim the countship left behind by his late brother, and René Vorbretten has to battle to keep his countship after an unexpected discovery in his family tree. There's a lot of emphasis on the political side of Barrayar, as well as the clash between their traditional ideals and Beta Colony's more liberal relationship with sex and gender. Despite this rather serious subject matter, this is an outrageously funny book and an enjoyable read.

Apparently, I never quite completed my review of Komarr, so let me say here that I consider Ekaterin one of the most well-written female characters I've ever read. She's so complicated, with all of the baggage from her first, profoundly unhappy marriage. She's also a fabulous match for Miles, being a relatively steady influence, but also absolutely flawless in a crisis. In turn, Miles is a sort of liberating influence on Ekaterin, who grew used to being as little herself as possible under her first husband's oppression. Generally, I don't like it when characters are possessive with love interests... but I will forgive Miles on three counts: firstly, because his approach to love very much fits his character, secondly because everyone (including his own mother and Ekaterin herself) calls him out on it repeatedly and to great comedic effect right up until it blows up in his face, and thirdly because I am incurably fond of him as a hero. It helps that we know that Ekaterin is also deeply attracted to him, even if she is wary of another marriage based on past experience, and that their engagement ends up being on her terms.

A general apprehension to marriage is a reccurring theme in this novel, as Kareen too has her reservations. She feels like she is just starting to become herself and that marriage is the end of a woman's growth. Whilst the older married women in the story try to gently dissuade her of this, Kareen is concerned with all the stories girls hear growing up that end in marriage as a happily ever after. It's that age-old question, what comes after happily ever after? She is in love with Mark, she is happily in a partnership with Mark, she just doesn't want to marry him yet. And Mark? He's happy with whatever Kareen wants. The issue is her traditionally Barryan parents and their expectations - not to mention their absolute horror at her choice of partner and the terms of their relationship.

This may be the most romantic books I've read since I read Komarr. If you have never read a book by Lois McMaster Bujold, you're missing out.

What's the most romantic book you've read this year?